Dennis L. Feucht,
Pine Ridge community resident
Pine Ridge Road is an unpaved rock-gravel road that begins at the tarred (“pavedâ”) Western Highway in the Cayo district of Belize, an independent state the size of Massachusetts that is south of the Yucatan, Mexico. It was the former British colony of British Honduras. After the American War of the 1860s, numerous Confederate soldiers came here seeking a new environment. Pine Ridge Road runs southward into the jungle hills, ending in about 30 miles at Caracol, the former headquarters of the Maya, now a tourist site of stone pyramids. Along this road live North American and European immigrants, native people, and a small village of about 200 people, called 7 Mile (El Progresso), originally resettled escapees from the civil war in Guatemala in the United Fruit Co. exploitation days.
At about the 5 mile point is Barton Creek Road running to the east, along which are the Upper and Lower Barton Creek Mennonite farming communities. These horse-and-buggy Mennonites split with the original colony to the north, Spanish Lookout, over technology-use policy. The Barton Creek Mennonites did not want to extend their use of technology to motorized vehicles, telephones, or electronics generally. When I drive the road, I occasionally pick up Barton Creek Mennonites and we talk about the relative merits of technology. I tell them I am an electronics engineer, but that I am concerned about the misdirected use of technology nowadays. They are open and appreciative of my point of view. My wife and I know many of them. The wife of one of them, formerly from New York, writes agricultural articles for the Belize Ag Report (www.belizeagreport.com), edited by my wife, Dottie, and Beth Roberson, a former Peace Corps volunteer of decades ago with an ag degree from Massachusetts, who lives on Cristo Rey Road, another jungle road next to ours toward town (San Ignacio) which intersects ours at about 9 miles in.
I found my acreage for my “Cayo Sustainable Colony” homestead the weekend I drove my Chrysler minivan into San Ignacio, the seat of the district, a big belizean town of about 7,000 people. I met Ben Butenschoen, originally from quad-cities, Iowa, where he taught technicians electronics. Ben had been here for over 30 years and drove a bus of hippies down from Iowa, but by the time he arrived at the Belize border, only he was left.
For a stranger in a strange land, the Mennonite colony to the north, across the Belize River, was inviting. It is, along with the Barton Creek spinoffs, a real community and successfully resilient in its endurance. Driving into it is like leaving Belize and entering a Midwest Canadian farm town, but with palm trees. The Mennonites have been here and thrived since 1958, and now drive some segments of the economy. When they arrived, they had only the land, deep in mud, and some tractors for clearing. Now, they have tall glass-walled businesses along Center Road. When I first arrived in 1999, the general store, Farmerâs Trading Center, was a small building with some cans of goods on shelves and a mechanical cash register. Now it is the size of a Wal-Mart with groceries, hardware, and textiles. The multiple checkout lanes are attended by Mennonite girls who have been taught to say, “Have a nice day.” The good old days of silence while you leave with your bags is over.
My original dwelling was a 16 x 30 foot wooden cottage I bought pre-built from a lumberyard in Spanish Lookout and was moved on a flatbed trailer into place, about 150 feet from the road after some clearing work with a Caterpillar tractor. Even then, we had trouble bringing in the trailer.
The story of how the present Pine Ridge community developed essentially explains the community. There is no official history of it and this account tells it from the perspective of it I know best: my own. It is still developing and far from complete. I begin with a story from my early homesteading days, in the early 2000s, to color the background for living on a plot of jungle on Pine Ridge.
Terrors of the Jungle
When I first moved into the cottage on my homestead, and before the concrete and rebar house was built on the hilltop, I was writing an email on my laptop computer when I looked down at the floor and … the cottage was being invaded by columns of black, half-inch army ants! In terror, I stood on my chair, hastily grabbed the nearby can of insecticide, and began spraying the floor furiously!
No, not really. I watched them instead, wondering how they got in. So I went out and found the long line of bidirectional traffic, coming out of the front woods, across the driveway, and into the back woods. A freeway exit took a few hundred of them up the front (side-road) porch post and into the house. The gear oil I put on the posts as a deterrent was, by now, dried and it did not stop them.
These are fascinating creatures. I quickly recognized what a blessing it was to have them. Free maid service! They swept through, didn’t bother anything of value (including me), but carried off insects and other items of refuse they found on the floor. It was a half hour after I first noticed them that they were gone. Not one ant in hundreds remained.
Not everything seemingly bad is. Some things are a blessing in disguise. My only regret is that they didn’t take the smaller ants with them. They are more of a nuisance. And the smaller red ones – the fire ants – bite.
Roaches are not good, period. Another big, 2.5 inch, black, scary-looking insect is the palm beetle. The first one that came into the cottage one night was so big I thought it was a fruit bat. I was able to broadside it with a machete as it buzzed around the cottage, finish it off, and sweep the dead little monster off the porch. Palm bugs are not only as big as small bats, and fly around making a loud buzzing sound, as though they are wound up; worse yet, they kill Cohune and coconut palms. Now that’s going too far!
I was previously driving home on Pine Ridge Road and it was raining hard. I ran over a multicolored snake, about 2 to 3 feet long, with tail at the edge of the road, extending into the road. It must have been about 3/4 inch in diameter. I have no idea which kind it was. Besides it, I have seen few other snakes. Most of them are non-poisonous, and most of the poisonous ones are not deadly. Just a few give the rest a bad reputation. The deadly fer de lance is the worst.
I have been within striking range of a fer de lance on three occasions. The first two were during rainstorms, where small ones came in toward the cottage, and later the house, but were clearly not in any striking mood. The most interesting encounter was at about 9 pm one cool January night. I heard my dog barking with unusual zeal. I took a flashlight and went out to discover a full-sized fer de lance coiled up next to my veranda. By the time I saw the snake, I was within a few feet of it, warming itself on the concrete. I went back in the house to get what should have been my camera, but instead was a slingshot. By the time I came back out, the dog, keeping his distance, was barking at the snake who was now in a straight line, 8 feet long, pointing down the driveway, and looking at the dog. I shot a stone near the snake, and it turned casually to the right and headed into the bushes. Some fellow homesteaders had encountered fer de lances in the early days while walking on our roadway. Nobody has been bitten, though fer de lances can be aggressive if they are in a territorial mood.
There are velvety hunting (not web-building) spiders with a black to dull shiny brown body and long, articulated legs with knees up in the air. In the cottage one day, They are allies in the fight against our real enemies, the insects. Speaking of spiders, this account would be incomplete if I didn’t mention the tarantulas I have encountered on the roads while driving at night. Pine Ridge Road had many in my earlier days. Most of them are fairly small, only 2 inches across, and easy to run over. But the larger ones are 6 to 8 inches and not uncommon.
Despite their looks, tarantulas have a pleasant, even jovial, disposition. A starving cat wandered in from the jungle that we adopted. It was on our veranda one evening. I and others were standing on the uncovered patio out from it and a step down, and I noticed a tarantula in the shadow of the veranda, on the vertical step of the patio. The cat did not know of it, and walked toward us. Stepping down to the patio, its leg brushed the tarantula. The cat pulled back and laid down on the veranda, with tail toward the patio. A while later, the tarantula crawled up onto the veranda, went over to the end of the cat’s tail, reached out and touched it, then turned and walked away. If only we had a video of it. I suspect that it was the tarantula that lives in a hole in our yard.
And then there are the black little wasps that have tried three times to make nests on the back house roof line, porch roof, and on the ridge inside the house. There are ordinary flies, and there are ”doctor flies” and flies with yellow translucent wings. Both deliver a wallop of a bite. Mosquitoes are rare on Pine Ridge, which has the lowest incidence of them in all of Belize.
Besides snakes, spiders, ants, and biting flies are scorpions. They appear in our house and usually hide where it is wet in the bathroom.. Like most snakes, they flee humans, but they also creep onto beds of sleeping humans at night where they can inadvertently be bumped with a hand or foot. They are useful in eating insects, but they also sting with their tails. I have never been stung (though my wife and I occasionally get up at night and walk around barefoot) but am told that it is both painful and short-lived.
This leads to the inevitable question of how big a factor larger wild animals are in living in a jungle settlement. Pumas and jaguars are in our area, and stay well away from human habitats, but will occasionally bag a farmerâs sheep. The natural food of the jaguar is the tapir or âmountain cowâ, a pig-like animal with a tapered snout and weighing typically several hundred pounds. They are also occasionally sighted, though homesteading drives these animals and monkeys deeper into the bush.
As Your Jungle Cottage Becomes Livable
An indoor toilet is a great blessing, along with other basic functional cottage systems such as running water and electricity. It means that you will not have to venture out into the deep, dark, rainy woods in the middle of the night, finding your way through the cottage in the dark to your flashlight, venturing down the stairs and putting on your boots because of the mud and rain, reluctant but prodded on by internal pressures, fearing that your flashlight will fail unpredictably from the humidity, leaving you in eternal outer darkness with no possibility of reprieve, and that your toilet paper roll, which doesn’t fit into your pocket anyway, will fall into the mud, leaving you with nothing with which to wipe, while a long, green, slithery form moves across your path in front of you, and strange noises emanate from nearby and sound dangerous. No, none of these terrors will be yours, and you can sit in relative comfort and privacy on a clean toilet seat indoors instead of squatting, hoping you hit the hole in the ground, hoping you don’t fall backward into the hole, and hoping even more that you don’t hit your underpants.
With pressurized water in your cottage, you can then flush and wash your hands in the sink, flip off the light and casually and conveniently return to bed (or whatever) without having to come back through those self-same Woods of Terror that you traversed, as you hoped you could find the outdoor latrine in pitch blackness, only (having returned in fear) to have to remove freshly mudded-up boots, getting some unremovable clay on you in the dark, as you try to keep your flashlight clean, though it too got dirty in the woods. And you won’t have to gather up leaves on the forest floor as composting mulch to throw over what you left behind, nor do you have to then use a squirt bottle to wash your hands, which is nearly impossible to do, one hand at a time while the other holds the squirt bottle. No, nothing like this will befall you in the equipped cottage that awaits you when completed.
After this, air conditioning! Security system! Landscaping! A veritable paradise of fruit trees and vegetable garden, growing amid attractive walkways, as viewed from a large patio with deck chairs, from which you and others sip on cool fruit drinks and enjoy pleasant breezes as you visit with new friends and acquaintances over the barbecued onions and enchiladas, with Marie Sharpe’s hot sauce (red or green kind) on them. It might be all right in the Pine Ridge community after all – eventually.
Building a settlement is an exercise in solving a series of problems. When a problem eludes solution, I am frustrated, but I begin to become intrigued. I turn slowly from the defensive to the offensive. I become inquisitive. How can a solution to this problem elude me so effectively? There is a mystery worth pondering here. I begin to wonder about it, become caught up with its strange intractability. How extraordinary – a truly unsolvable problem! Can it be? I wonder. I mull it over in my mind. I try to look at its form instead of its content. I try to connect the dots of failed attempts in order to see its shape. What simple clue has been in front of me all this time that I have not seen?
This inquisitive, probing attitude is essentially an attitude of faith. It is one of continuing hope despite having adequate reasons for it. The person who becomes convinced that there cannot exist a solution loses all faith, all hope, and truly gives up. That is the attitude of terminal, not stepping-stone, failure. Sometimes it takes this level of hopelessness to arouse the creative phase, but if it kills it instead, then it is truly failure. This is the path to be avoided. More is involved in solving a tough problem than one’s present state of mind.
Sometimes, we try to solve the wrong problem. Some difficulties common to humanity have never been “solved.” In engineering we would say, “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” Sometimes a difficulty needs to be viewed in a different perspective, from a different angle. Maybe it can be used to advantage. Sometimes difficulties that cannot be overcome guide us onto our track in life where they are simply part of what defines the path. Limited choices can be a blessing in disguise. Imagine the quandary one would face in deciding what to do if we really could do anything (like U.S. government-school kids are being told they can do nowadays).
Last but not least, one persists in problem-solving only if one has an overall reason to hope for a solution. This entails one’s larger view of reality and of why a settlement is being built. If I did not believe I were sustained by the Creator and Giver of hope and of the solutions that come to those who believe they are there to be found, then I could develop the cynical view of the true loser. I could believe that I am merely a victim of fate, circumstances, the System, or misfortune, in an ultimately meaningless universe that had none of us in mind. But I don’t. I believe that every event that occurs happens for a purpose, and it is my response to events in my life that is critical, not their occurrences.
When I view life purposefully, only then do I become aware that I am being guided by a Power greater than myself. As Einstein said (though in a somewhat different context): “God does not play dice with the universe.” Nor does he with our lives. I do not understand the detailed purpose of every event in my life, but as a whole, patterns emerge that take on meaning. I pay attention to those patterns and their meaning and find myself being guided in my understanding of them. Accordingly, God “shows up.”
As America deteriorates, Americans simply adapt their way downward along with it. Few focus in on those annoying fleas and go after them. Slowly, they multiply to cloud one’s entire vision. Defining the problem is a tall order when it comes to understanding the times one lives in and how to respond to them. Yet nothing worthwhile is accomplished without determination and effort.
It is possible to gain a sufficient understanding of the world-system with an amount of effort equal to about 20 to 30 credit-hours of college work. Much of the effort involves finding useful and credible sources. Some of these are unusual and not necessarily the kind scholars draw on because they involve information that has not been widely disseminated, discussed, and accepted. I put my own research into the form of a report (WGO) and later wrote a book (TGD) so that others could save some credit-hours in getting to the more important information and concepts.
There is no one right solution in responding to the collapse of civilization. Most do not notice that it is happening any more than a fish notices that it is in water. Some will try to restore society. Others will find that it is too far gone and retrench elsewhere to preserve civilization. Some will give up in despair. My approach is to retrench elsewhere. I have somewhat of a pioneering and adventurous spirit which fits this approach.
I am attracted to the idea of planting seeds of civilization in the developing world as settlements (or communities or colonies) that grow and expand in influence, spiritually, economically, scientifically and technologically, and in other cultural ways, bring added life to the places they grow. That is the history of western Europe, of America, of any flourishing society. They were planted and grew up as new life. They were intentional communities with a vision of some kind.
Some people are initiators, starters of new enterprises. They are in a minority, as you well know if you are one yourself. Only a few people also respond proactively rather than retroactively to the course of events and are not generally accepted (until later) because they are ahead of where most others are. This is as true in social matters as in science and technology. Few have the vision to do something as drastic as move out of Mainstream America to form a distinctive culture aware of its own identity. To stay in the developed world and leave the System is equally challenging as going offshore. Mendocino County in northern California is doing it. Smaller groups can too. Missionaries set a precedent. Settlement-building is a kind of mission.
An increasing number of Americans are leaving participation in a dysfunctional society, either geographically or simply by no longer participating in it where they are. Some are responding reactively to early events, occurring to them personally, which foreshadow what is to come more generally to Americans. They are escapees, not missionaries.
Visionaries see the trends and respond proactively to anticipated events. I have been building a network (for which this report is a communications medium), though small at present (and maybe always), of proactive visionaries. Once the visionaries begin to succeed, others who themselves are not initiators but joiners will become interested in participating. This may occur after my lifetime. One step at a time.
Once it can be seen by all that a settlement will succeed, then organizers are more important than initiators, though a settlement not continually initiating, expanding, and multiplying will fall into the same decay America now experiences. The Chinese three-self house-church movement sets a good example. They are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. The priority for a settlement cannot be its own organization but must be its life-enhancing functions, and its replication elsewhere. A growing number of small settlements, where one’s ID is personal knowledge by others, is preferred to one large, uniform, bureaucratic mini-culture.
In Belize, settlement-building is not uncommon. In America, it is almost unheard of nowadays. There are a few Hutterite colonies in South Dakota, Montana and elsewhere. The Resilient Ways Movement will hopefully spawn multiple communities. There is a movement underway for freedom-seekers to move to a state such as Wyoming and take it over through voting, then secede from the Union. California is considering calling a Constitutional Convention to amend the Constitution to allow a means for States to leave the Union. Texas is not far behind. And there are retirement communities, nudist colonies, Branch Davidians, you-name-it, that bring people together with various motives. Settlement-building is an idea which time has arrived.
The settlement-building I have in mind has the following features: cohesion of purpose, relative physical and social independence from the world-system, productively creative, transformational in its effect upon surrounding people, and ever bringing conceptual clarity, order, and beauty to wherever it has an influence.
This starts with the settlement-builders, the initiators of “nodes” in a loosely connected network of like-minded settlers scattered about the hemisphere and the world. Mennonites are culturally attuned to start colonies and in Bolivia there might be as many as 50 by now. Others work on the ambitious task of starting a new, minimal-government country somewhere on earth. Still others, such as myself (though interested in and supportive of new-country efforts) are content to take a less geographically consolidated approach by building a network of communities, settlements or “colonies.” The distributed approach has the advantage that it is less easy to target by those hostile to it and is more robust in surviving the failure or takeover of individual colonies. And it has all the advantages of not being hierarchical. Its form of organization is that it is networked.
How to Join a Settlement
So you are interested in becoming a member of a difficult, exciting, liberating, and potentially highly fulfilling social venture! The settlement idea is not new. The early American colonies were successful examples of people brought together by common outlooks and interests. If you share this outlook then you are a candidate for future life in a Settlement.
The first step in joining a Settlement is to assess your current situation thoroughly:
1. Is your idea of life in the Settlement consistent with the Settlement descriptions? If not, you might consider instead other alternatives. The difference between the Settlement and a typical American suburb is that it is an intentional community, guided by a common overall vision. If you are not sure, one alternative is to move near the Settlement for a test period until you have resolved your uncertainty. Rental housing and the cost of living is relatively cheap in places where settlements might arise, and an exploratory time here will dispel much of what is unknown.
2. Is your family (spouse, children, close relatives) in accord with the Settlement vision and accept that difficulties may lie ahead? If not, you are not ready to proceed. A united family, in agreement about joining the Settlement, will greatly aid your likelihood of succeeding.
3. Do you have the financial means to join the Settlement? For most Americans, their house is their single greatest asset. To join the Settlement, you will most likely be faced with an either-or decision: either live where you are and keep your house or sell it to live in the Settlement. For those with limited assets, a five-acre plot in the Settlement is recommended as a starting homestead. You will need to buy land, build or buy a house and infrastructure, and have some extra money set aside for living during the initial phase. See “Getting Settled” for more.
4. Do you have a plan for making a living in the Settlement? This should be discussed with Settlement members if you are unsure or need additional insight into work possibilities, which can be many and varied. If you are “retired”, plan on using your skill-set to your ability in the Settlement.
5. Do you or your family have any significant health problems? This could be an important factor, for advanced medical (mainstream or alternative) care is not available locally. To join the Settlement, you (and your family) should be in reasonably good physical shape. Discuss this further with Settlement people if it is a factor.
6. Do you have social dependencies, such as care for an aging parent, that could affect your Settlement move? Be sure to review your social responsibilities and connections in view of joining the Settlement, and include them in your plan.
7. How do you plan to come to the Settlement? You could containerize your belongings for shipment while you fly or divest nonessentials and rent a U-Haul and move them. Or preferably, if you choose Belize, you could drive down, bringing your essential belongings with you. A truck or four-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary here but is recommended. A front-wheel-drive van with good clearance is sufficient. You could drive from Texas through Mexico to Belize.
With these questions answered and issues resolved, you are ready to move to the action phase.
Cayo Settlement Location and Land
One of the criteria in locating the Settlement is the desirability of the land, so that sufficient settlers would be attracted to join. Several options are available. The first here in Belize is 50 acres located along Waterhole Road south of Succotz, in the southern hills of the Cayo district of Belize, an English-speaking country and former colony of Britain. Coordinates for Cayo are approximately: N 17ï°, W 88ï°. The seat of Cayo, the west-central district, is San Ignacio, about 70 miles west of Belize City. The Waterhole Road Settlement land is mildly hilly, and includes hilltops suitable for homes. Some have a view of the surroundings. Because of the elevation, this is one of the cooler places in Belize to live.
The second option for Settlement land is owned by ex-Iowa farmer and electronics instructor, Ben Butenschoen, a Pine Ridge resident of 35 years, whose lifelong vision was to establish a Settlement here. In the 1970s, Ben headed for Belize with a busload of prospective settlers (mainly hippies), only three of whom made it to Belize and none of whom remained, leaving Ben the lone colonist. In 2003, to initiate the Settlement, I bought jungle land from Ben along Pine Ridge Road and proceeded to homestead, not knowing that Ben shared a similar vision. Adjacent to the homestead are about 600 additional acres owned by Ben and intended to be a Settlement with a large eco-reserve park within it.
This land is presently for sale by Ben. (See www.belizewesterncayo.com) It is divided into two large tracts of about 300 acres each and some smaller plots near or along the main (Pine Ridge) road. Because of the quality of this land (in location, weather, soil fertility, forest, water springs, and views), Ben is asking about $1000 US per acre for the 300-acre tracts. A five-acre plot on the western 300 acres would therefore cost about $5000 US. This is homesteading land for which homesteaders will need to also put in their own infrastructure, in accordance with the goal of a sustainable, self-supporting and self-governing community.
The Pine Ridge settlement is in a central location, 12 miles from both Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio, and 25 miles from the capital city of Belmopan, to the east. Settlement access to the main highway running across Belize, the Western Highway, is about 7 miles north on Pine Ridge Road which continues southward to the giant Mayan ruins at Caracol, an emerging major tourist attraction, and passes a three-star resort, Blancaneux Lodge, among several other resorts. It is in the jungle. Pine Ridge Road is unpaved, is a âsecond gearâ road, and thus isolates the settlement from urban thieves to a great extent. The primary issue that brings the Pine Ridge community together is security against occasional petty thieves and even robbers.
This is not the first settlement in the region. Spanish Lookout is a Mennonite colony of about 1500, located 12 miles north of the Settlement. It is an inspiration to settlement-builders. With an average education of seventh grade, the hard work, united efforts, and persistence have resulted in an attractive community on about 40 square miles. Spanish Lookout is a source of supplies, pre-built cottages, examples, and ideas.
Morris Keller, a retired doctor who now lives in Jamaica and has his own settlement-building activity there, once started a settlement on 100 acres near Spanish Lookout to share his view of a self-sustaining community. His is another option in Cayo.
Mennonite communities in Upper and Lower Barton Creek, along the next (Barton Creek) road east, are also nearby the Pine Ridge community and overlap with it.
Pine Ridge Community People
A group of people along Pine Ridge Road have, over time, come together. The segment of the Road on which they live is from about 5 miles in from Georgeville, the town at the pavement, to somewhat past the 8 mile junction with Cristo Rey Road. Starting there, Todd, an artist of the capable and productive kind, builds functional artwork as furniture and doors which he exports to the north. His wife, Tatiana is both a U.S. and Russian citizen and culturally is both. She is a medical doctor and spends much time working contract jobs in the States, though she has hopes of setting up telemedical services and producing some medical products from the Belize rainforest. There are cures in jungle plants for some maladies that Big Pharma has not yet found. One book that is popular down here and was written by a doctor who spent much time with the leading bush doctor in the area, is Rainforest Remedies. It is an index of the plants that grow in the jungle that can be used to treat various ailments.
Alan and JoAnne were big-time honey farmers in North Dakota that my wife and I met on the Mississippi paddlewheel cruise boat years ago. They sold out, bought land near the junction, and another Pine Ridger on the north end, Shane, built their house. It is somewhat fancy for Belize, and recently they were robbed. It was big news in Belize. One of the important rules in my mind about homesteading is to not stand out as opulent, neither in the developing or developed countries. Our house is solid concrete and rebar – essentially unaffordable for a private residence in America – but it needs painting and looks dilapidated, though entirely functional. I consider that a stealth security advantage. The house is on a hilltop but also is not visible from the Road.
On the north end are Shane and Monique, from Kansas. Shane is a native Englander, has much enthusiasm and is an excellent builder. They have built a mini-resort, also on a hilltop, with a fantastic view.
Between them and our homestead is Carlos Itza, a Mayan-Spanish indegeno with a doctorate in entymology. he worked for the govt of Belize but is now an independent consultant. He also built a new house recently.
Just south of us is an adjacent hilltop where Joe and Diana are now building their homestead. Joe is a semi-retired builder who bought land from and next to a native, James Neal, an old friend of his who in past decades th two have explored the whole area and know where the “undiscovered” caves are. Joe is an Indiana Jones and has found numerous âundiscoveredâ underwater ruins around the world, especially in the South Seas. Diana taught math where they came from, a ranch in Western Colorado, which might seem remote enough, but not for them.
Jan and Tinika are Dutch and grow butterflies commercially. Jan is an independent consultant for ecological impact studies. They have a flock of geese for security. Across from them are the Bevis clan. Jim, the father, has worked in various places in the world doing logistics for projects requiring a large camp, such as for oil drillers. His wife, Marguerite, is our Ridge nurse. Their son, Arran, leads expeditions deep into the jungle for those deemed fit for it. The Bevises are originally from Texas but have been on Pine Ridge for as long as Ben Butenschoen. There are others, but this set of cameos gives the flavor of the social setting on Pine Ridge. We all have trucks – 4-cylinder diesels that you cannot buy in the U.S. – so we are not prisoners of the Ridge. Yet all of us have a common set of interests and concerns by living here and this, in part, brings us together.
Once you are prepared to join a settlement, an exploratory trip is advised, to personally experience being on the Settlement land, surveying it, finding a prospective plot of your own, and getting a concrete perspective on what lies ahead. Recommended trip time is 10 days, though a longer stay within your budget can only prepare you further for settlement life.
Your move to the Settlement might follow a typical sequence through the following “phases”, using Belize as an example:
1. Arrival: stay in a campground or motel for the first month or two. For Belize, hotels are low in cost. A room in San Ignacio can run from $10 to $25 US per night and $200 US/month. During this time, existing settlers will either find a rental house while theirs is being built or will order a cottage built for them, which takes about a month.
2. Homesteading: move in to the new house and establish some ability to live in it while additional improvements or refinements are underway. Some infrastructure might still be under completion. A cottage is a way to start while a more substantial house is being built. It can then be used as a guest house or as temporary rental housing for new settlers. An electric generator can provide temporary electric power. Experience on how to best live through this difficult phase is accruing and will make it easier for future Settlers to succeed.
3. Work: with a house to live in and working infrastructure, attention can be turned to making a living. The best approach for settlers is to earn a living over the Internet, or outside Belize. Foreign income is effectively tax-free. A work permit might be required before permanent residency (which takes over one year in-country) for those with skills that are applied locally. A work permit costs anywhere from $35 to $1500 US. In time, the settlements will hopefully have a small but thriving internal economy which will overflow into the surrounding Cayo area and Central American region. The envisioned Settlement emphasis will be on “incubating” entrepreneurial activity, with businesses partly owned and operated by local Belizeans, and nurtured by Settlers, who receive a portion of the profits from them as their consideration.
4. Expansion: once home and work are established, one can participate more fully in the larger goals of the settlement itself, both in terms of its internal development and in its projects which reach beyond the settlement. Belize offers a good location as a base of operations into either Upper or Lower America and wider opportunities in the hemisphere, or beyond.
A major aspect of going offshore that is not of concern within oneâs native land is immigration. Governments now treat it as an income source. It takes one year of being in Belize to qualify for permanent residency (PR). During that time, you will pay visitor visa extensions of $50 ($25 US) per person for the first six months, then $100 ($50 US) thereafter until PR is obtained. In practice, it takes longer – sometimes much longer – than a year to be given PR. One way to reduce the drain ,if important, is to have one family member be the scout who stays here the year. Then the other family members are attached to the PR application. Belize still recognizes the social unit of the family. Visas are renewed every month, and though the process is becoming easier, ore streamlined, it is still a strong reminder that until you have PR, you are not really in the country in a deep way.
To qualify for PR, it is almost essential to âinvest in the countryâ, which means sinking some money into homesteading. The wall keeping Americans or Canadians in their countries is not built by the countries from which they are emigrating, but by the destination countries.
Once you have selected and purchased a plot of land in a settlement, the next step is to homestead it. This involves either building or buying a house and related structures. Infrastructure is a major aspect of homesteading, for there are no utilities (water, electric, gas, telephone) available. However, all of the needed infrastructure can be obtained in alternative ways.
Water is available in some parts of the Pine Ridge land from springs. Wells are also a possibility, though the preferred source is rainwater. It is typically collected off of roofs, via gutters, into plastic tanks, typically of 1,000 gallon capacity. Two 600 gallon tanks are recommended with a cistern for backup. Most houses would have gravity-fed water from the tanks, but an alternative is to put in a pressurized water system using a pump and pressure tank. This costs about $500 US. In addition, a cistern of perhaps 30,000 gallons would provide water for light agriculture and as a reserve for dry periods. Water would be collected into them from plastic sheet collectors and from their own tops, if not used for other purposes. The cottage cistern I had constructed was a steel-reinforced concrete box of 16,500 gallons, is 21 ï´ 21 ï´ 4 feet in internal volume, and uses the slightly-sloped top to collect rain. It is intended as backup water for the two 1,000 gallon plastic tanks next to the cottage, and for irrigation of garden and orchard in the area next to the cistern. It cost, along with a 2,000 gallon, dual compartment septic tank with soakaway (cesspool), about $7000 US in 2005.
Electricity can be generated on a village scale and provided as a small utility. For the first settlers, residential generation and storage could use diesel generators, followed by solar PV with nickel-iron batteries or possibly solar thermal electric systems with thermal energy storage. Wind generators might also feasible. Besides a house, a related structure might be an energy shed, to house infrastructure systems for electricity and tool storage. A good diesel genset costs typically about $1000 US.
Butane gas is plentiful in the Yucatan and can be purchased locally at a reasonable price; a 20 kg tank will cost $25 US ($50 BZ) to fill. It can be used to power ammonia absorption refrigerators and gas stoves and dryers.
Cell phone towers are within reach of the settlements. The best alternative is satellite Internet and voice over Internet. Settlers can share satellite links, with up to about a dozen users per dish. Shared cost per month is comparable to ISP charges in N. America or about $15 US per month for a few sharing users.
The first and most important infrastructure item in homesteading is the roadway or driveway to one’s house. A road is made by bulldozing the forest, preferably taking a path that avoids large or valuable trees. The bulldozed underbrush is salvaged for firewood and the rest can be burned. Then road gravel or marl is brought in, rolled (compacted), crowned, and drained (with ditches). This cost in 2005 about $1000 US per 200 feet of roadway.
A house can be built or bought and moved in. The first homestead began quickly by buying a constructed cottage (16 ï´ 24 feet with additional 6 foot veranda, interior walled bath) for about $7000 US from one of several cottage builders in Spanish Lookout. These are raised, breeze-cooled houses with wooden framing and floor, metal or wooden walls and roof, with optional roof ridge vent and stairs. Set upon 6.5 foot posts, the ground level under the house serves as a carport and location for the water pressure system, and initially, the genset.
Alternatively, it takes a few months to build a 1500 to 2500 square-foot masonry block or dome house. Building costs are about 50 % those in the U.S., per comparable area. Building design should take advantage of mild weather, with big porch or plaza area around the inner core of the house. Parts of the kitchen (hot stove, or instance) and bathrooms (humid showers) can be moved “mid-doors”, covered and screened, but not dehumidified or air-conditioned. A large adjacent outdoor area is a pleasant place to spend time otherwise spent indoors in N. America.
Finally, landscaping consists first of hiring some local brush cutters (at $15 US per day) to cut the underbrush and unwanted trees around the house. The yard can be sown with grass seed or cut until the native grass comes up. Fruit and medicinal trees and decorative plants and flowers, of which there are many choices, can also be planted. Chipped stone under a raised cottage and in the area around it eliminates the continual need for boots, keeps the house free of mud, and vastly increases the desirability of living in a clean environment. A concrete slab can be even better.
Living in Belize
The Web has much material on what it is “really like” in Belize. It is much like small-town America in the 1950s.
Expected characteristics of Settlers, such as neatness of property, punctuality, and planning, will not be shared fully by many Belizeans. Exceptions are the Mennonites, most educated Belizeans, and expatriates from Upper America, the Mideast, and Western Europe. Expatriates are sometimes viewed as a source of money by some Belizeans, and confidence schemes are not uncommon, ranging from simple hard-luck stories to elaborate, fraudulent ruses. Give no stranger, except a government official in a government building for a government purpose issuing a government receipt, money or you will not see it again. Conceptually, there are no loans or credit to many natives. Possession is ownership. Never loan your car to someone who is not a well-established friend or you will not see it again. The friendly demeanor of the natives can fool you at first, and some are expert at playing upon the ready sympathies of Americans who look upon them condescendingly as the âpoor primitive savagesâ. If you want to avoid “paying your dues”, learn how to say, “I don’t have any money to give out” to anyone who goes down that route with you. Then walk away or change the subject. Do not be too friendly to strangers or you might have a hard time saying no when money comes up – unless at the mention of money, you can let a deadpan-serious look come over your face and let silence finish the message. There are no loans in Belize, only welfare gifts.
For the most part, most Belizeans are honest and pleasant people. This is a young culture (as is all of Central America), and children are prevalent as are young (sometimes very young) mothers. Abortion and homosexuality are essentially unheard of and unwanted. Belizeans are innovative in finding solutions to problems that Americans depend upon expensive tools to solve. The smarter ones would make good engineers and inventors if they were apprenticed and educated. This is an opportunity for projects in the expansion phase of the settlement: new native technology-oriented businesses and training.
Expect also the level of commercial activity in a country of only 300,000 to be much below what is assumed in Upper America. The closest Wal-Marts, for instance, are 200 miles away, in either Cancun or Guatemala City. There are no large stores here (though family Chinese shops are called a “superstores”). Do not expect to find specialized parts in-country. They will have to be ordered from the developed world (N. America, mainly) and paid for in that state’s currency. Keeping a N. American credit card, or at least one in U.S. dollars, is a good idea but do not depend on it. Local banks here issue credit and debit cards. Some businesses bring in requested products subject to recurrent purchase.
Settlers should not expect to export an American lifestyle to Belize. That does not mean one must live a deprived life, but it does involve adaptation and optimization to a different environment. Your favorite American brand of potato chips can be purchased here, but expect to pay over twice as much for them. However, plantain and cassava chips are cheap. So is citrus fruit, bananas, and much that is locally produced. Some vegetables, however, tend to be more expensive in the local produce market in San Ignacio (or Belmopan) than in the States though they are fresher. This is probably because of the low volume of local production. Organic produce is becoming more popular.
The essentials are available and are often cheaper than in N. America. Gasoline is not cheap, however ($5 US/gallon), but everything is relatively close in a small country. Diesel engines are preferred, and some convert gas engines to run on butane for a 60 % savings in fuel.
Settlement infrastructure costs more than typical N. American utilities, but when amortized over a long time, can be cheaper. The initial expense of water and electric systems is mitigated by the lack of monthly utility bills (though diesel fuel and butane are variable expenses).
One path for Belize immigration is to obtain a work permit a few months after arriving. However, if you invest in land and are homesteading as an investor, it is best to be âretiredâ. After one year of living in the country, with up to no more than an accumulative 14 days away, one is eligible to apply for permanent residency.
The process of obtaining permanent residency in Belize is not deterministic. Some expatriates have been waiting for years to obtain PR status. Merely following the process and achieving eligibility does not guarantee the end result. Belize government works along both official and unofficial lines. (The latter is not necessarily illegal). Additionally, changes in immigration personnel have an impact upon options.
Upon application for permanent residency (PR), two interviews occur. The first appears to be to check that the answers given on the PR application correspond to your verbal answers. The process takes at least three months and usually longer. When PR status is conferred, the PR fee is $2000 ($1000 US) as of 2005.
The Drive Through Mexico
For those driving from western N. America, it is necessary to bring vehicle title and get the temporary vehicle permit. Driving through Mexico from the west will usually lead through Mexico City unless longer shoreline routes are taken. One popular route is to drive to Brownsville or Pharr, TX, cross the Rio Bravo River and drive down the Caribbean coast, through Tampico, Veracruz, MinititlÃ¡n, Villahermosa, Escarcega, and ChetumÃ¡l. This route takes about three days to drive on the autopistas (or cuotas – the tollways), which are recommended for safety and speed. They will cost over a $100 US in tolls for the entire trip.
Tip: don’t get off at Cosamaloapan, between Veracruz and MinititlÃ¡n. You pay toll both getting on and off the autopista there. And the town is several miles distant. Though nice, it is not worth the drive nor the additional toll. If you must see a town with a long Aztec or Mayan name, visit Coatzacoalcos, on the coast near MinititlÃ¡n.
The Mexico ferry (www.mexicoferry.com) was announcing that it will resume service between Tampa, FL and Cancun (and also between Tampa and Merida) in November, 2004. The date has slipped to Spring 2005, then late 2005. It has yet to operate. Do not count on it. For anyone in the eastern part of N. America driving to Belize or Central America through Belize, this is eventual good news – if and when it occurs. The far-east Caribbean Mexican state of Quintana Roo does not require temporary vehicle importation permits within that state from Belize.
The move out of Upper America to a life in a homesteading settlement might seem like a big challenge and a big obstacle to actually doing it. It was to me. Then I realized that if it were to happen at all, it would happen because I acted to make it happen, and I acted. It was a big challenge, but hardly impossible. Most people with vision and determination (and a few assets to get going, although this can be secondary) can do it.